BOSTON — Defense attorneys for James “Whitey” Bulger on Wednesday sought to reveal the ugly side of Boston FBI history when they cross-examined a federal official who had probed the agent convicted of turning a blind eye to the reputed mob boss’s crimes.
For two days during the trial, which recalls a bygone gangster era, special agent John Marra reviewed the FBI’s 700-page file on Bulger. Defense attorneys are now questioning whether that key piece of evidence is reliable.
The FBI contends that Bulger served as an informant for more than a decade, providing tips on rival gangs to corrupt FBI agent John Connolly at a time when the bureau was focused on taking down the Italian Mafia.
Connolly and Bulger shared an Irish ethnic background and hailed from the same Boston neighborhood.
Bulger, whose story inspired Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award-winning 2006 film “The Departed,” denies being an informant, contending he had paid Connolly for information but provided none of his own.
Marra, who read accounts of Bulger blaming gangland rivals for some of the 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and ’80s, acknowledged under cross-examination that he “didn’t verify” all the information contained in them.
Connolly, the primary author of the files — who was convicted of racketeering and murder charges — sometimes falsified information in his reports on Bulger and associate Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Marra said.
But he added on Wednesday that he had no reason to believe Connolly or other agents fabricated all the reports in Bulger’s informant file.
Defense attorney Henry Brennan questioned Marra about whether he had received a complete copy of the file, and whether he was aware of a special file room at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., that included a safe containing documents not included in informant files.
“I was told the complete informant file for Mr. Bulger was in the FBI Boston office,” Marra said.
Bulger, 83, fled Boston after Connolly warned him in 1994 that arrest was imminent. He evaded capture for 16 years before the FBI caught up with him a little more than two years ago living in Santa Monica, California, with his girlfriend, a cache of weapons and more than $800,000 in cash.
He has pleaded not guilty to all criminal counts, which also include racketeering, extortion and drug dealing in addition to murder. He faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Bulger’s defense argued that Connolly fabricated the material in the reports to provide a cover for his regular meetings with Bulger.
Jurors may also hear on Wednesday from Connolly’s former FBI boss, John Morris, who Marra said invited Bulger to his home and cooked him dinner for their first meeting.
“They had dinners together on multiple occasions. I don’t believe they were all social,” Marra said. He added that Morris also falsified some reports pertaining to Bulger.
“He lied at times,” Marra said. “I do not recall how many.”
In an effort to polish Bulger’s public image, his attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Denise Casper to modify a court rule that limits what they can say about the case outside the courtroom. Their aim, attorney J.W. Carney argued, was to be able to respond to newspaper columns, blogs and comments by others involved in the case that are critical of Bulger.